Slike strani


high hopes and expectations, being only son and heir of Sir Charles Asgill, a wealthy baronet.

The youth bore his lot with firmness, but his fellow prisoners were incensed at Sir Henry Clinton for exposing him to such a fate by refusing to deliver up the culprit. One of their number, a son of the Earl of Ludlow, solicited permission from Washington to proceed to New York and lay the case before Sir Guy Carleton, who had succeeded in command to Sir Henry Clinton. In granting it Washington intimated that, though deeply affected by the unhappy fate to which Captain Asgill was subjected, and devoutly wishing

that his life might be spared, there was but one alter| native that could save him, of which the British commander must be aware.

The matter remained for some time in suspense. Washington had ordered that Captain Asgill should be treated “with every tender attention and politeness, (consistent with his present situation) which his rank, fortune and connections, together with his unfortunate state demanded,” and the captain himself acknowledged in writing the feeling and attentive manner in which those commands were executed. But on the question of retaliation Washington remained firm.

Lippencott was at length tried by a court-martial, but, after a long sitting, acquitted, it appearing that he had acted under the verbal orders of Governor Franklin, president of the board of associated loyalists. The British commander reprobated the death of Captain Huddy, and broke up the board.

These circumstances changed in some degree the ground upon which Washington was proceeding. He




laid the whole matter before Congress, admitted Captain Asgill on parole at Morristown, and subsequently intimated to the secretary of war his private opinion in favor of his release, with permission to go to his friends in Europe.

In the mean time Lady Asgill, the mother of the youth, had written a pathetic letter to the Count de Vergennes, the French minister of state, imploring his intercession in behalf of her son. The letter was shown to the king and queen, and by their direction the count wrote to Washington soliciting the liberation of Asgill.

Washington, as has been shown, had already suggested his release, and was annoyed at the delay of Congress in the matter. He now referred to that body the communication from the count, and urged a favorable decision. To his great relief, he received their directions to set Captain Asgill at liberty.

This, like the case of the unfortunate André, was one of the painful and trying predicaments in which a strict sense of public duty obliged Washington to do violence to his natural impulses, and he declares in one of his letters, that the situation of Captain Asgill often filled him with the keenest anguish. “I felt for him on many accounts; and not the least when, viewing him as a man of honor and sentiment, I considered how unfortunate it was for him that a wretch who possessed neither should be the means of causing him a single pang or a disagreeable sensation.”


While these pages are going through the press, we have before us an instance of that conscientious regard for justice which governed Washington's conduct.

A favorite aide-de-camp, Colonel Samuel B. Webb, who had been wounde.. in the battles of Bunker's Hill and White Plains, was captured in December 1777, when commanding a Connecticut regiment, and accompanying General Parsons in a descent upon Long Island. He was then but 24 years of age, and the youngest colonel in the army. Presuming upon the favor of General Washington, who had pronounced him one of the most accomplished gentlemen in the service, he wrote to him, reporting his capture, and begging most strenuously for an immediate exchange. He received a prompt, but disappointing reply. Washington lamented his unfortunate condition. “It would give me pleasure,” said he, "to render you any services in my power, but it is impossible for me to comply with your request, without violating the principles of justice, and incurring a charge of partiality."

In fact, several officers of Colonel Webb's rank had been a long time in durance, and it was a rule with Washington that those first captured should be first released. To this rule he inflexibly adhered, however his feelings might plead for its infringement. Colonel Webb, in consequence, was not exchanged until the present year; when Washington, still on principles of justice, gave him the brevet rank of Brigadier-general and the command of the light infantry.

[ocr errors]






[blocks in formation]

In disposing of the case of Captain Asgill, we have anticipated dates, and must revert to the time when Washington again established his head-quarters at Newburg on the Hudson. The solicitude felt by him on account of the universal relaxation of the sinews of war, was not allayed by reports of pacific speeches, and motions made in the British parliament, which might be delusive. “Even if the nation and parliament,”

, said he, “are really in earnest to obtain peace with America, it will, undoubtedly, be wisdom in us to meet them with great caution and circumspection, and by all means to keep our arms firm in our hands; and instead of relaxing one iota in our exertions, rather to spring forward with redoubled vigor, that we may take the advantage of every favorable opportunity, until our wishes are fully obtained. No nation yet suffered in treaty by preparing, even in the moment of negotiation, most vigorously for the field.”

Sir Guy Carleton arrived in New York early in May to take the place of Sir Henry Clinton, who had solicited his recall. In a letter dated May 7th, Sir Guy informed Washington of his being joined with Admiral Digby in the commission of peace; he transmitted at the same time printed copies of the proceedings in the House of Commons on the 4th of March, respecting an address to the king in favor of peace; and of a bill re

; ported in consequence thereof, authorizing the king to conclude a peace or truce with the revolted provinces of North America. As this bill, however, had not passed into a law when Sir Guy left England, it presented no basis for a negotiation ; and was only cited by him to show the pacific disposition of the British nation, with which he professed the most zealous concurrence. Still, though multiplied circumstances gradually persuaded Washington of a real disposition on the part of Great Britain to terminate the war, he did not think fit to relax his preparations for hostilities.

Great discontents prevailed at this time in the army, both among officers and men. The neglect of the States to furnish their proportions of the sum voted by Congress for the prosecution of the war, had left the army almost destitute. There was scarce money sufficient to feed the troops from day to day; indeed there were days when they were absolutely in want of provisions. The pay of the officers, too, was greatly in ar

, rear ; many of them doubted whether they would ever receive the half pay decreed to them by Congress for a term of years after the conclusion of the war, and fears

« PrejšnjaNaprej »